Vantage point

Friday, February 26, 2010


After Sachin got his historic double century in the Gwalior ODI, I tweeted how I was a wee bit sad because I had my heart set on Sehwag scaling that summit first. Obviously, I got hammered by others, and maybe rightly so. But my expectation, much like the great Prem Panicker's, that Sehwag will be the one, shows how doubly special Tendulkar's achievement is. How he was, is an remains a peerless cricketing giant, the likes of whom never did and never will walk the earth again.

A couple of years back, everyone started writing off Tendulkar. Starting speculating about his retirement. The end was nigh, we all said. And yet, in the last 18 months or so, Sachin has made us eat our words, digest them, crap them out, and eat them again. Saying he is in the "form of his life" is an understatement. It is not just that he is middling most balls, reading the bowlers, finding the gaps, and proving difficult to dismiss. It's something more. It's like he has reached that astral plane where he is at one with everything around him on the cricketing field.

A couple of years back, some flaws were seen creeping into his game. The incoming length delivery was proving to be fatal with alarming regularity. Left arm spinners bowling over the wicket had always been an irritant, but was turning into an Achilles heel. And the footwork, usually so perfect from the word go, seemed to take a while to get in place, bringing him down to Ponting's level. A lot of these flaws seemed to stem from slowing reflexes and growing age. He is in his late 30s, after all.

And yet he found enough reserves of self-belief to iron out these kinks, and raise his game to a level where he seemed like an even compacter version of the old Sachin, the one who had no weaknesses. The turnaround, IMHO, started in the Sri Lanka series in 2008. That might sound ridiculous, given that a) he never reached 50 in that series, and more importantly, b) in the preceding tour of Australia, he scored beautiful centuries in tests as well as ODIs, so if anything, that's where the turnaround began.

Well, not quite. The Australians were not at their best. Anyone who saw the series will agree that Sachin was lucky in that series to not get tested too much on his flaws. Not to take anything away from his centuries, but they were par for the course, not really eagles or albatrosses. The Sri Lanka series on the other hand, is where his combative rediscovering old self seemed to emerge. Yes, he was unlucky enough to get dismissed quickly. But he just looked so much more relaxed, compact, and self-assured. The flaws seemed to have disappeared. The old Sachin seemed to be returning.

Over the next 18 months, he showed that it wasn't the old Sachin, but a totally new Sachin. In 16 test matches, he scored 8 centuries, with 7 of them coming in wins. That's a phenomenal rate for anyone at any age, forget a man who has been playing cricket for 2 decades.

In ODIs, he has been especially lethal, scripting epic after epic. The 200 seemed almost certain at Christchurch where he made a breathtaking 166 off 133 balls, but then sadly had to retire hurt with five overs to go. Who can forget the 175 where he almost single-handedly brought the Aussies to their knees. And then there was this innings. Which seemed like part of a very natural progression. Adjectives fail me when describing how totally "complete" the innings was, and would have been even if he had not reached 200 or even crossed 194. No edges, no chances, no slashes. And this was no piddly second string side he was taking on. And yet, he hammered each and every bowler. Towards the end, realizing that he was cramping, he kept taking singles and giving the strike to Dhoni, instead of defending and waiting for a four ball.

When he finally reached the 200, it almost seemed anti-climactic. Because it seemed like it had been coming for a while. It seemed almost natural, almost obvious that Sachin would reach 200.

What a man!